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Overtime costs UK workers $43bn

Clock-watching: London employees are putting in almost an extra day a week in overtime.
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LONDON, England -- Many workers in the UK may have been lucky enough to bank a Christmas bonus last month, but new figures suggest most of them may still be out of pocket.

According to figures released this week, British employees did unpaid overtime worth as much as $43 billion last year.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC), which conducted the research, said that each employee who performed an average number of extra hours should have received an extra $8,700 if paid at their normal hourly rate.

Or, to put it another way, if they had done all their unpaid overtime at the start of the year, they would have worked for free until February 25.

The TUC said that London workers suffered the worst deal with more than 700,000 people putting in average of 7.9 unpaid hours a week -- almost a complete extra day at the office every week.

Had they been paid for the extra time, the average London worker would have picked up more than $13,000 on top of their regular annual wage.

The average number of unpaid hours for the UK as a whole was 7.3 hours.

Long hours can contribute to stress, poor health and relationship problems, and few managers would argue that tired, burnt-out staff are good for business.

But TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber warned that the UK, which already has the some of the longest work hours in Europe, had become an overtime culture, in which companies were increasingly reliant on workers exceeding their contracted hours.

"We're not saying that we should turn into a nation of clock-watchers. Most people do not mind putting in some extra time when there's a crisis or an unexpected rush. But too many workplaces have come to depend on very long hours. They get taken for granted and staff have to do even more if there is an unexpected rush," said Barber.

"Worst of all is that many long hours workplaces are inefficient and unproductive. People are putting in long hours to make up for poor organization and planning in the workplace.

"It also puts employer complaints of the costs of benefits such as pensions or time off for new parents into perspective. Employers have been cutting back on pensions even as their staff put in longer hours."

To draw attention to the issue, the TUC has declared February 25 "Work Your Proper Hours Day," when it is urging staff to stick to their contracted hours to remind their bosses how much they depend on their extra efforts.

"Take a proper lunch break, not just a sandwich at your desk, and leave on time, to enjoy your own time on Friday evening," it says.

"Why not get together with friends working nearby, and go for a coffee, a pint, or take in a show? You deserve it! This is one day in the year for your boss to appreciate your efforts, and for you to appreciate yourself."

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